18 November – 21 December 2021
White Cube Paris
Since the 1980s, Marclay has focused on the subject of sound, through video, sculpture, painting, works on paper and performance, often using pre-existing materials and sampled elements from art and popular culture. As Douglas Kahn has written, Marclay’s work exhibits a ‘willingness to pursue sound where it is ostensibly silent, harboured in the private audition of thought or registered in normally more mute materials and representations.’ (from Christian Marclay, UCLA Hammer Museum, 2003)
Marclay's new collages made during the 2020 lockdown, draw a parallel between the anxiety and pent-up frustration of the pandemic and the heightened emotive states of comic and manga portraiture. Exploring the relationship of sound to image, through a process of sound mimesis, the works converge visual and aural realms. Screaming mask-like faces, pervaded by a deafening silence, are composed out of torn and cut fragments from manga, comic books, movie stills or images sourced from the internet, and combined with onomatopoeic words. In Face (Blue Electric), a densely layered collage of comic strip sounds, in tones of blue and yellow, resolve into a screaming, wild-eyed spectre, buzzing with energy. While in Face (Thorns), a medusa-like head is shaped from sinuous, hook-like words.
As Marclay has stated: ‘To be totally original and start from scratch always seemed futile. I was more interested in taking something that existed and was part of my surroundings, to cut it up, twist it, turn it into something different; appropriating it and making it mine through manipulations and juxtapositions.' (from May you live in Interesting Times, Venice Biennale, 2019)
In a similar manner to previous works – notably Chorus from 1988, in which images of singing mouths are hung together to create the suggestion of collective sound – Collective Emotion (No. 3) shows a chorus of faces with a range of fearful expressions all collaged onto a red background. Marclay’s ensemble of individual angst however, points to a collective anxiety, an allusion, perhaps, to the inescapable condition of the pandemic.
His new series of photographs, also featuring screaming faces, are made by mixing comic book fragments with movie stills found on the internet. These analog and digital elements are photographed with low-tech procedures to simulate three-dimensional depth. Blending with or emerging from their backgrounds, the creases and tears in the paper are incorporated into the overall image, adding to the complexity of the various perspectives and to the sense of an emergent figuration. In mixing paper collage and digital photographic techniques, Marclay is able to treat the computer screen not as distinct but as another tactile, physical surface that can itself be photographed.
The single-channel video Fire, also 2020, similarly plays with spatial illusion. Using thousands of small representations of fire cut from comic books, the artist creates an abstract and hypnotic burning fire. Employing stop motion animation, the film incorporates over 1500 photographs shown in rapid succession in the manner of a flip book, resulting in a mosaic of flickering flames that shift and jostle in perpetual motion. Flames are also present in the photographs Untitled (Burning I, Burning II), both 2020, in which composite collaged faces lie on a background of grass and dry leaves. Thin streaks of smoke snaking across their surface points to an impending incendiary disaster, perhaps an oblique comment on the recent forest fires ravaging the world due to climate change.
Surreal and hallucinatory in feel, in these sometimes apocalyptic visions Marclay combines the real with the represented, the printed with the photographed, the analog with the digital, and the flat with the three dimensional in a complex interplay of ideas.
Also presented are earlier works made in parallel to Marclay’s ‘Actions’ series which employ the language of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism and combine painting with silkscreen, image with word. Unlike his other images of sound mimesis, however, here onomatopoeic words reference the wet sounds of paint being applied to a canvas, the sounds of ‘heroic’ gestural painting. Appearing to play out their own instructions, words such as ‘splat’, ‘splot’, ‘slurrrrrp’, ‘sloosh’ or ‘plop’ merge with colourful gestural marks and drips as visual echoes of these sounds. Sliced Splash (2014), for example, is a paint-splattered composition made from two distinctly sliced parts while Splat Slurrrrrp Sloosh Plop (2014), features areas of paint applied in these various ways.